Shared Stories: Queen for a Day

TV game shows have been a reality of broadcast television for over seven decades. Sharon Smith remembers a neighbor who attended a popular show and won. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns.

By Sharon Benson Smith

The Danielson family lived directly across the street from us. We kids always referred to them as them as the “rich people” on the block. They had the loveliest home (both inside and out), the nicest cars, a rental behind their home, and a separate structure in their front yard that housed a bar that was fully stocked with liquor plus non-alcoholic beverages.

Mr. Danielson, Fred, was a conductor for the Santa Fe Railroad, so they were able to travel a lot too (most likely for free). His wife, Ruth, was a homemaker, and came to visit our mom quite often to have a cup of coffee from her 20-cup aluminum percolator. 

One day, Ruth came to ask Mom if she would take care of her boys, Fred Jr. and Gary, while she went to the “Queen for a Day” show to, hopefully, become a contestant.  Mom was pleased for her, and agreed to watch the boys. 

It was a very popular show at the time, hosted by Jack Bailey.  The premise of the show was that whichever contestant needed the most help, (or had the saddest story), she would be chosen as Queen. 

Ruth’s sad story was that the foundation of their home had been in desperate need of repair for several years because when it rained, puddles formed inside the house, the boys would splash in it, and come down with bad colds, often requiring a trip to the doctor’s office.

As the Danielson’s luck would have it, lo and behold, she won Queen For A Day, and that meant prizes galore! Among the prizes was a mangle – a large machine for ironing sheets or other fabrics, usually when they are damp, with heated rollers.  

Ruth taught me to operate the machine and I earned 10¢-25¢ per flat piece that I ironed for her. Boy, was I glad when I got a “real job” and didn’t have to “mangle” anymore.  Additional prizes included all new kitchen appliances, mainly one brand spankin’ new electric stove. 

Ruth didn’t need a new stove, so Dad bought it from them for our mom.  Dad’s heart was in the right place in getting Mom a new stove, but it became such a thorn in her side - it was electric and she preferred gas, saying the heat was just too difficult to control - it got too hot, or not hot enough, etc. 

Mom had that stove until our home sold in 1961, and they moved to La Mirada where she was cooking with gas once again. She was so happy to be rid of that electric stove that Ruth Danielson won on “Queen for A Day.”

Shared Stories: Randy' Last Breath

Almost two years ago, Yolanda Reyna shared a story in this column of her chance encounter with a homeless man who had a big impact on her life. Yolanda’s compassion had an impact on more people than she could have imagined. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.   Curated by Carol Kearns

By Yolanda Reyna

I met Randy over two years ago. We were just two strangers crossing paths. He was a short little man walking with a slight hunch - a drifter in need of a meal. I was fortunate to provide that for him.  

Although needing nourishment in his body, he wasn’t spiritless. He was soft-spoken, kind and gentle, and welcomed me with a genuine and everlasting smile. After that encounter, I never stopped thinking about him. I wrote a story about how we met.  

My story was published in the local newspaper in June 2016, titled “Randy.” In my story I wrote, “I don’t know if I will ever see him again”.  

A year and a half went by and I did see him on the street again, but in another town. I was so moved and excited.  I was able to share with him that I never stopped thinking about him.  I hugged him and told him I wrote a story about him.  

Surprisingly he remembered me! He thanked me for writing his story and unveiled the most lovely smile. There was something about this man that I was so drawn to. By then, he was living in a homeless shelter and I was able to visit him.

I spent time with him on his 65th birthday. In the months I kept in touch with Randy, we created a unique friendship. He was my friend and almost like a brother to me. I called him regularly to make sure he was doing OK. He, in return, would telephone me just to say hello.  

I asked if he had any relatives close by, or family members visiting him. He told me he had a daughter and three grandchildren who lived in Colorado, but he hadn’t spoken to them in a very long time. He never mentioned anything about any friends, and I didn’t want to pry into his life too much.

While he lived in the homeless shelter he was restricted from drinking alcohol, of course. There were rules set and he was unable to make long distance phone calls too. Miraculously, while living in the shelter, he did not drink alcohol for a year.  

One day while visiting Randy, I couldn’t help but ask him about his life. He told me he had been homeless for 10 years. His mother had passed away in 2005 and he lost the home where she had passed away, leaving him to fend for himself. He also confided in me that he had started drinking at an early age, and that was all he knew.  

He often found shelter with friends from time to time, but then he would pack up with what little he had and drift back into the streets. I knew one day he would leave the shelter as he often told me he would. Sadly, when he did leave the shelter, he went on a drinking binge.  

He called me days before Thanksgiving, and told me he wanted to get a job, and get his life in order. We had planned on meeting during the week for a cup of coffee, something we had always talked about doing, but that day would never come.  

Just a day before Thanksgiving, I received a text message. It read, “I’m in the hospital. Call me.” I called immediately. When asked if I was a family member, I told the person I was just a friend. Apparently, one of the staff members looked through Randy’s cell phone and found my number.  

They couldn’t give me any information but told me I could visit him. When I arrived at the hospital, I was shocked and heartbroken to see he had been placed on life support. The hospital knew he had a daughter and was desperately trying to get a hold of her.  

Randy was unrecognizable. His hair was matted, and he looked pale and bloated. It was obvious he had had a fall. He had a chunk of dry blood on the bridge of his nose, and the side of his face was scraped pretty bad. I recognized his hands, because he was a nailbiter.  

I felt helpless, but I kept thinking about his smile. He always had a smile from ear to ear before this happened. It was gut-wrenching to see my friend needing the aid of a machine to help him breathe.  

In the days I visited Randy, I was able to pray over him, talk to him, caress his hand, and whisper in his ear, thanking him for our wonderful friendship. I had placed my story “Randy” by his bedside.  

One day while visiting Randy, I couldn’t help but ask a nurse, “What happened to him?”
She said, “I’m not supposed to tell you, but since you have been the only one visiting him, I will. He was brought in by an ambulance. He was found unconscious behind a liquor store.” 

One day I found a man visiting Randy when I entered the room. I introduced myself and he told me his name was Richard. He was a friend of Randy’s family and had received a phone call from Randy’s daughter. She asked him to be at the hospital with her father. When Richard asked me how I knew Randy, I handed him my story.  

We went to the cafeteria and Richard confirmed everything Randy had shared with me about his mother passing away and his homelessness. Richard also informed me Randy was going to be taken off life support that day. Randy’s daughter, Christina, finally called and gave her consent. I was present in the room along with Richard when the life support was removed.

I gestured to Richard to give me his hand so that I could pray. We bowed our heads and I asked the Lord to have his will with Randy and I thanked the Lord for allowing me to meet this kind man.

I said to Randy, “Go, you’re at peace now.” At 2:43 pm, November 28, 2017, Randy took his last breath. I leaned towards him and kissed him on his forehead. It was a profound experience.

Richard and I embraced each other. I was honored to meet Richard and he thanked me for watching over Randy and for writing my story “Randy.” 

Meeting Randy was by far one of the best experiences in my life. There was a time when I would have never approached any homeless people, but once again, there was just something about this man. I cherished our friendship. He was soft-spoken, kind and gentle. Before his final last days, he always had a smile from ear to ear.  

Randy was laid to rest three weeks later when his daughter came from Colorado. I was able to meet Christina and a host of Randy’s friends. She hugged me and thanked me for being by her father’s side. I was then asked by Richard if I would give a eulogy at Randy’s funeral. I was honored and moved.  

Before Christina and friends of Randy went up to the podium to speak, I went up. I opened in prayer and read Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd,” and I read my story “Randy” to a host of about 30 guests.

In closing, I shared how much Randy meant to me and how grateful I was to meet him.

Thinking back on this wonderful encounter and journey that I had with this total stranger, I marveled. From just two strangers crossing paths, who would have ever thought that I, a complete stranger, would give Randy’s eulogy! 

May you rest in peace, Randy.  I will never forget you.

Shared Stories: Learning to Drive in the U.S.

Anthony Kingsley’s deadpan description of learning to drive in the United States offers perfect episodes for a comedic film – and it even ends on a suspenseful note.  Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.  Curated by Carol Kearns

By Anthony R. Kingsley
I grew up in Ireland during WWll. When I was about age six I used to listen to the American Forces Network (AFN) Stuttgart and Frankfurt and developed a dream that one day I would go to the United States.
I moved to England where I got a job with a construction company. The pay was OK but not enough to save for moving to the USA. I got two more jobs: bartending during the evenings and selling in a Department Store on weekends. The money from these two jobs went into a separate account. 
As time went by and the savings were building up, I decided to make a bet on a horse named Damredub. Damredub won at a good price. And the savings account got closer to its goal. 
I went to the American Embassy, applied for an immigrant visa and showed my bank accounts to prove I had enough funds to support himself. My passport was stamped with a visa. I advised my three employers of my intention to leave. 
On April 28, 1965 I boarded the 53,000-ton ocean liner, the SS United States. I could have gone on the Queen Mary, but the SS United States offered a 10% immigrant discount. 
As we pulled out of Southampton the captain announced that we would arrive in New York on May 3 at 6:00 am. The next five days were spent on the water with six meals a day – wow – what luxury!!
On May 3 I was up on deck as the ship passed under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, the entrance to New York Harbor at exactly 6:00 am. I saw all these car lights and wondered where all these people were going. The answer was, of course, people heading to New York City for work. 
After I cleared immigration and customs, a big burly stevedore picked up my meager belongings and carried them out. Not knowing the value of the currency, I gave the stevedore a tip based on English values. The stevedore very nicely handed the tip back and said, “If that is all you can afford son, you need it more that I do.”
A friend of a friend picked me up and took me to an apartment in Brooklyn. After searching for a few days, I obtained a job with Chase Manhattan Bank. But I had to pay the employment agency one month’s pay. 
My neighbor Frank offered to teach me to drive but I said No, I wanted to learn in my own car. After a few months I bought my first car for $300 – a 1960 Plymouth Savoy with huge fins at the back. Off I went with Frank and suddenly I saw a car in my rear-view mirror right up on my tail, so I nervously pulled over. There was no car – what I saw were my own fins.
I got my license and Frank asked me to drive him into New York to buy something. I dropped Frank off and continued driving around the block again and again. Then red flashing lights appeared behind me. I stopped and handed all the paperwork to the officer and was directed to go sit in the police car. The other officer drove my car to the police station.
After about two hours, they said I was free to go. When I asked why I had been picked up, the answer was because I was driving around and around in front of a bank.
While at Chase, my supervisor told me that if I wanted to get ahead I would have to go to college. I applied to Queens College but I was refused because I had no education paperwork. So, I took and passed the GED and was accepted to Queens College. 
In November 1965 the Great Northeast Blackout occurred, cutting power from Canada to Pennsylvania.  And where was I at the time? Stuck down in the metro. It took me five hours to walk home. 
I left Chase to work for an engineering company but Chase asked me to come back and work from 6 pm to midnight on a special project. I accepted so that I could build up my savings. 
In 1969 I was on the freeway when I was hit from behind by a truck. The company would not settle so I sued them. I went to court and the company made an offer. I refused. The judge said I should accept it because there was a five-year backup in the courts. I took the judge’s advice.
After four winters of cold and snow and with no car it was time to say au revoir to New York and head west. So where to go - Los Angeles or San Francisco? A flip of a coin decided – Los Angeles it was! I got a job with a mining company headquartered in Los Angeles and travelled to plants in California, Nevada and Arizona. 
I also transferred to California State University, Los Angeles. In 1982 I graduated with an MBA completing the requirements for both the Accounting and International Business options.
In 1989 I got a job as the Chief Accountant for the State of YAP in Micronesia. But despite the warm water and swaying palm trees, I left after three months.  
I got a job as the assistant controller for a demolition company. I met a wonderful woman from the Philippines, to whom I am still married, bought a house, and decided that my wandering days were over.
But alas, settling down was not meant to be. 

Shared Stories: Take me out of the ball game -- please!

This is a painful story to read about bullying – especially in light of headlines that we see far too often in the news today. Yolanda Adele describes a storybook outcome to a game, but concluding events are still sad. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns.

By Yolanda Adele

I was 12 years old and in primary school. Students in my class were being picked for baseball teams. I was the last one standing. The team captains argued about who’d have to take me. They assessed that my doughy body wouldn’t be able to run fast nor throw a ball with any amount of accuracy, let alone be capable of catching it. I pretended not to care, stating loudly, “Girls shouldn’t play baseball anyway!”  

Mrs. Grant, my P.E coach, stepped in and told the captains, it was a requirement, everyone had to participate. Most of the kids began to whine. Then Mrs. Grant said she’d flip a coin in the air for the captains to call to see who would be stuck with me. Oh, she didn’t really say it in that way, but everyone knew that’s what she meant.  

At our first game my teammates groaned when I took my place alongside them. I stood tall with my chin up, shoulders squared back, and tummy held in so tight I felt it quiver.  

Out of the corner of my eye I could see some of the kids sneering at me. I wondered if they could hear my heart beating as loudly as I did. My pulse sounded like percussion in my ears. Beads of sweat raced down my body. My anxiety was evident to everyone. And the ball game had not even started yet! 

My team played the field first. And as predicted I fumbled and dropped the ball when it was thrown to me. Then I tripped over the base while running backwards and getting in the way of the second baseman. This error allowed the runner to get away from being tagged out. As if that were not enough I missed a “sure fly ball”, that someone yelled out his grandmother could have caught.  

When it was our turn at bat my captain said to me, “Your next, just relax.” 

I walked up to the plate slowly.  My knees felt like they were doing the hula. When I picked up the bat, my teammates started “booing.” Soon the spectators and rival team joined in. I gripped the bat hard.  It was difficult to see the pitcher through the tears that welled in my eyes.  

“Strike One!” I heard the umpire say.  Though he was right in back of me, his voice sounded far away as if he were yelling from a tunnel.      

After the cascade of tears streamed down my face, I could see the ball coming.  I held the bat past my right shoulder and when the ball reached me I quickly pivoted on my right foot, twisting hard at the waist, at the same time swinging the bat around with all the pent up anger and frustration percolating within me.  

Then I heard the bat crack as it made contact with the ball. People began to cheer. They shouted, “Run! Run! What are you waiting for?” I stood watching the ball go over the fence, until it was out of sight. I turned and glared at my teammates before I began to walk the bases. I guess it could be said, that I walked my “Home Run”.   

A lot of the kids said they’d never seen anybody else at our school hit the ball out of the park. I didn’t care. I wanted out! After we won the game, I told Mrs. Grant I didn’t want to play baseball ever again!

Mrs. Grant stated the consequences: I would have to take an “F” in Physical Education and sit in the principal’s office during P.E for the rest of the semester.  

“Now, what’s it going to be young lady?” She demanded to know.  

I quickly responded, “Take me out of the ball game - please!”

The lesson I learned on that day is that stubbornness can win a game or keep you out of it.  
I’m good with that.

Shared Stories: Listen and Learn

Steve Zaragoza is an observant man. The boy scouts probably learned a lot under his leadership. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns


By Steve Zaragoza

It was picture-perfect springtime in Joshua Tree National Park when a group of Boy Scouts visited in 1984. All the colors were sharp and the air was crisp and clean. It is a time I captured and kept in my mind.

I was a scout troop assistant scoutmaster and advisor for hiking and backpacking. We had two patrols of six boys and six leaders. Friday night evening dinner was jumbo burritos.

Next morning started with seasoned potatoes, scrambled eggs, and bacon. After clean-up, we all helped each other to prep for a day hike.

The trail we took would lead us to the boulders area. Throughout the hike, we pointed out the different cactus -  the Joshua tree, teddy bear cholla, Mojave yucca, chuparosa, desert lavender, creosote bush – just to name a few. During our hike in a dry creek bed, we also saw small desert life – rabbits, squirrels, and birds.

At the point of about two miles, we had reached an area at the boulders. All of us agreed to rest. That started a lot of chitter chatter. While that was going on I noticed a signal to have our lunch and snacks.

My favorite snack on hikes is salami and cheese with crackers (Ritz, of course). Some of the boys wanted salami and cheese, so I made a trade – peanut butter and jelly for salami and cheese.

While everyone was eating I noticed a rock climbing group ahead of us. As I was watching, I heard one leader giving instructions to one boy on where to place his hand and foot.

The instructor made himself very clear, telling the boy, “Right arm straight out and about two hand lengths up, and place four fingers in the fissure. Then slide your right leg up slowly till you feel a bump with your foot.”

At the base of a boulder, one of the other instructors was prepping another boy to climb. “Pull yourself up,” he yelled.

That instructor also told the boy to, “Hold and feel my hands to know the movements of tying a knot.”

At that point, I turned back to my group of boys and said, “Hey, guys, look and listen and tell me what you see.” About five minutes in, the boys said they just saw others rock climbing.

I told them, “Listen, guys, they’re in constant communication while climbing and rappelling.” 

The group of kids we were watching were blind. It told our boys that we had a lot to learn about how to listen and work together.

Shared Stories: A Definitive Diagnosis

Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns

By Vickie Williams

In 2015, I was fortunate to have met Ginger Lane in my Norwalk Seniors Memoirs Class. She approached me after I read a story and asked, “Do you have dysphonia, muscles spasms, when you speak?” 

“Yes,” I responded, “sometimes.” I have suffered from a speech impediment for over 40 years. Having to read my stories out loud in class is very stressful, and my disfluency becomes more apparent. Answering the phone, having to say my name, and introductions to strangers are often my biggest challenges.  

My voice can sound breathy, broken, and scattered.  Words with the consonants S, P, V and H can be particularly troublesome.  

My conversation with Ginger was revelatory.  She also had a speech disorder, called adductor spasmodic dysphonia, where the vocal folds slam together, tighten, and stiffen. The spasms make it difficult for the vocal cords to vibrate and produce sounds.  The speech sounds choppy, strained, and strangled. 

Ginger understood not only the mechanics, but also my emotional and mental struggles to speak, especially before an audience. My shoulders relaxed and my mind was at ease when I spoke to her. 

She recommended that I consult an ear, nose, and throat specialist, which I had never done before. Ginger’s suggestion made a difference, and I was sorry I never got an opportunity to thank her for it.

I had graduated from college and was working as a pharmacist when I sought medical help for my difficulties. In the early eighties, my general practitioner diagnosed me as having a stutterer’s behavior. My world turned upside down. My self-esteem plummeted. 

The genesis of my condition was a mystery. At that time, my doctor recommended speech therapy and I followed through, never questioning if his assessment was correct. I spent $5,000 out of my pocket for one year because I did not have a stroke, Parkinson's or brain trauma, the criteria necessary for insurance coverage. 

Finding Ways to Cope

Progress was slow. I did see improvement, but not to my satisfaction. My fluency was up and down like a roller coaster. My mind was inundated with fear, dread, and terror when my speech went awry. I hyperventilated and my heart pounded fiercely when answering the phone or speaking in public places, on and off my job. 

My speech raised eyebrows. It drew a plethora of reactions. I have been subjected to questions like, “Are you drunk or on drugs?” “Are you having a seizure?” “Why are you laughing,” or “what’s so funny?”  One person mimicked me and told me I was sexy over the microphone on my job.

My intelligence was questioned and I received hostile looks. Impatience and intolerance by others showed up when my words were slow coming out of my mouth.

One doctor hung up on me, then called me back and asked if I had a speech impediment. When I told him yes, he apologized.

It was a dizzying journey. I felt like a dog unsuccessfully chasing its tail. The more I tried to control my speech the more I lost control of it. At times, I thought I was losing my mind.
Somehow I managed, never missing a day at work.  I made no excuses and kept pushing through my emotions and spasms. I felt embarrassed and lamented my faltering speech. I lost my spunk and spontaneity.

One time another pharmacist, whom I called for a copy of a prescription, asked me, “Are you high or drunk?”

My words sputtered before I got a head of steam to respond. “I have a speech impediment. I am a stutterer.” 

“Give me your phone number and let me call you back!” he demanded.

I struggled giving the number. My vocals did not cooperate. When he called back, my technician, who had returned from break, answered the phone and reiterated that I was the pharmacist and a stutterer.

His pharmacy was down the street from where I worked. I decided I wanted to let him see my eyes and realize I was not under the influence. It was a Saturday evening. I knew that his pharmacy closed at 6 p.m., an hour later than mine.  

At 5 p.m., after closing the pharmacy, I paid him a visit. I waited until he finished with his customers then approached the counter gingerly. No one was present but him and me. 

“May I speak with you for a moment,” I said.  “I am the pharmacist you spoke with earlier and you thought I was under the influence. Look me in my eyes. I want you to see I am not high. I have a speech impediment. I don’t do drugs and I am not drunk.”

I looked deep into his eyes and I did not flinch or stutter. “I don’t need any trouble or you reporting false information to the state board,” I told him. I pinched myself and asked him to pinch me. He looked stung and refrained. 

“The reason I want you to pinch me is because I am as human as you are.” His eyes widened. “It is a known fact one of the most difficult tasks for a stutterer is to speak on the telephone. When I make good eye contact, I am more fluent.”  

He stood at attention and listened, looking mystified and in disbelief.

“I am so sorry.  I misunderstood,” he apologized.

“Thank you for your time,” I replied and I walked away like a proud peacock. I celebrated singing with the radio blasting, as I drove home. It was a victory to me. I felt empowered.

While my challenges were many, I did not struggle alone. I must give a shout out to my co-workers in Downey. They were patient, protective, and professional. They came to my rescue answering the phone, sometimes explaining my speech. They showed me empathy.  I withstood frowns, doubters, questions, and haters. 

I had been struggling with this disability for almost 40 years when I first met Ginger and acted on her suggestion that I consult with an ENT specialist. I struck gold with this doctor. He listened, observed, and answered my questions. He validated my feedback and discussion of my experiences. His willingness to articulate each step of the evaluation process was reassuring

A flexible fiberoptic scope placed through my nose and down the back of my throat allowed the doctor to view my voice box while I was speaking. The spasms appeared on a monitor. 

The doctor confirmed that I suffered from a condition known as abductor spasmodic dysphonia. I was relieved to know it was not psychogenic, but a neurological disorder affecting the voice muscles in the larynx causing the widening of the vocal cords and preventing them from vibrating properly to produce sound, as air escapes from the lungs during speech.  Stress, he said, may exacerbate the spasms.

The Trial

The specialist questioned if I had a trauma or remembered a triggering event. My mind flashed back to Destrehan, Louisiana in 1975 when I was attending Xavier University in New Orleans. 

Five buses of students, including me, rode to the courthouse where Gary Tyler, a 16-year-old high school junior, was on trial for murdering Timothy Weber, a 13-year-old white boy, during an intense protest in 1974 by whites opposed to school integration.

Destrehan was known to be KKK territory, and Gary and his fellow black students were taunted with racial slurs, epithets, and hostility. On the day Timothy Weber was shot, Gary was on the bus, leaving school, when a shot rang out in the white crowd. Timothy Weber died.  

The physical evidence against Gary was very questionable – the bus driver said he thought the shot came from outside, the police searched the bus for over an hour before saying they found a gun, and later it was determined that the gun had been stolen from the police evidence room. Gary was sentenced to death by an all-white jury.

As a student at Xavier University, I had joined the Free Gary Tyler Committee. As our buses slowly rolled into Destrehan to support Gary during his trial, hard hat construction workers were lying on top of buildings with loaded guns pointed at our buses.

 A civil rights march in support of Gary Tyler in 1976. Courtesy

A civil rights march in support of Gary Tyler in 1976. Courtesy

The scene was daunting. I was scared out of my wits. Assigned to go into the courtroom to take notes and report to the overflow of students waiting outside, fear paralyzed me. I could not get a whisper out.  

From the day of the trial, my speech was broken. It got progressively worse, before getting better. Stress was a factor.  

My family was baffled and so was I. It was a sensitive issue. Mother looked bewildered when I spoke. I know her heart was bleeding for me. She was very patient, never critical.  

My sister Jo encouraged me to slow down when I spoke. “It’s okay, Baby Girl, you can do it.” Other family members reacted differently.

Despite all of this, I finished school, passed my state boards, and became licensed in two states. I pounded the pavement for a job and embarked on a career as a medical professional. 


My speech difficulties humbled me. I discovered my resolve. I walked through trials and tribulations, somehow forged ahead. I stumbled and found a way to get back up. It opened my heart to others with differences and disabilities. 

It taught me broken crayons still color. I faced the bitter and the sweet, and the bitter grew my gratitude for the sweet things in my life. 

The intolerance others mirrored was a valuable lesson. Not knowing the back-story of what others are going through leaves lots of room for misperception. I can’t fault others for misunderstanding. 

I saw improvements when I looked people in their eyes. I learned to be present, to be a better listener. I confronted my fears and trusted God. Speaking my truth and being honest made me feel good about myself. 

Journaling became a dear friend. I poured out my emotions on paper. Learning self-acceptance was a struggle.  I prayed and had no choice but to be patient with others and myself.

I became mindful of how important generosity, graciousness, and gratitude are. The three G’s have transformative power.  Many were kind and patient with me stumbling.

Ginger was a blessing, a gift, an earth angel. Fate destined us to meet. She was the catalyst to me getting a definitive diagnosis over 40 years later.  Three doctors and a language speech pathologist evaluated and diagnosed my condition in 2016.  How sweet it is to know!

What a weight lifted off my shoulders.  I am not crazy after all.  I owe Ginger a debt of gratitude. Wherever you are, Ginger, I thank you.

Final Note: Gary Tyler was sent to the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, known as the worst and bloodiest prison in the country.  His case was appealed by many supporters, and In April 2016 he was finally released after 41 years in prison.  He now lives in California and is a graphic artist.  I always believed in his innocence.  “Free at last.  Thank God Almighty, free at last!” 

 Gary Tyler in 2017. Courtesy

Gary Tyler in 2017. Courtesy

Shared Stories: What's wrong with your leg?

Katie Troy’s exuberance defies the reality of her progressive disease. She travels everywhere in her “convertible” (motorized wheelchair) and never loses an opportunity to promote the advantages of a healthy diet. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.  Curated by Carol Kearns.

By Katie Troy

I worked as a food server at South Street Deli for eight or nine years.  It was a very fun job.  I would laugh and tell jokes to the customers and they would tell me some as well.

One day I told my boss, “This job is scary.  I’m having too much fun.”

About a year and a half after 9/11, on March 26, 2003, I waited on four lovely ladies.  I had a ball with them.  I even got to tell them my Penny joke that a customer had shared with me.  
A customer asked me, “What’s wrong with your leg?” I said, “I don’t know.  It just doesn’t want to work.”

On April 1, 2003, I came into work and my boss said, “You have a letter from the four ladies you waited on last week.”

I said, “You’re joking, right?”  It was April Fool’s Day.  

He said, “No, you have a letter.” He went back to his office and brought it to me.  It was a lovely letter.  I even laminated it.  That was on Monday.

On Friday, when I walked into the restaurant, the manager from Katella Deli was standing there. (The two delis were owned by the same firm.)  As she handed me my check, she said, “Give me your apron and tie. We are closing.”

That was a trip.  I hadn’t gone to the doctor about my leg because I didn’t want to miss work. Now I could go to the doctor.

I knew exactly what was wrong when I asked my brother David, who has MS (multiple sclerosis), if he could run. He said no, so I knew I had MS as well. David’s MS mostly affected his right arm. He’s right-handed. My MS mostly affected my left leg.

I was upset that my neurologist made me get a spinal tap. I know now that it was all about the money and the injections he put me on, and the depression pills I took because of the poison shots.

I had to work at getting on disability. They denied me several times before I finally started receiving it.  My arms were (and are still) very muscular and I looked healthy.  Everyone was telling me to cover my “guns” (arm muscles) because the disability people didn’t believe I was ill.

Then I went to get Access (a ride service) about six years ago. I went in a wheelchair and my request was still denied three times before it was approved.

It’s been a crazy ride over the past 15 years. I wish I could walk, but I cruise in my motorized wheelchair instead. I go everywhere in it (except when I travel to Pennsylvania to visit my family) and I am on my third one in 10 years.

Since I developed MS, I stopped eating animals and sugar and GMOs (genetically modified organisms).  MS landed me here, or should I say God dropped me off.  Otherwise, I would never have met my Memoirs family or my “Mom” and neighbor Yolanda. 

I guess we all need to grow old gracefully.

Shared Stories: Conversations with winos

Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, Vince Madrid finds the reality in a wino’s dictum, “Everyone has a palace.”  Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.  Curated by Carol Kearns

By Vince Madrid
Time spent with winos at the streetcar depot across the tracks from mom’s house was surprisingly rich. Not the sort of moments that are generally taken to be rich, no great occasions, just plain old fashion good times. 

Decked out with meticulously ironed khaki pants and Sir Guy shirts with stylish French-toe dress shoes spit-shined like a mirror, dressed to impress, my friends and I craved acceptance, and for the most part we got it.

Our parents, bless their hearts, worked seven days a week cooking and cleaning to make ends meet. No time for philosophy. 

Thankfully, for the price of a cheap bottle of booze, neighborhood wine drinkers who loitered at the train depot entertained us with fascinating conversation. 

The most vocal of the group was cara de huevo. He acquired the name after participating in so many street fights that his face looked like scrambled eggs. For a generous donation cara de huevo would ceremoniously remove his glass eye from its socket and display it on the palm of his hand like a sports trophy.

Even though his speech was slurred, cara de huevo spoke with the confidence of a university professor. “The important thing,” he said, “is to find your palace.”

“What palace?” we asked. He smiled with the few teeth he had left, leaned toward us as if he was about to reveal the greatest secret. 

“This is important, Boy. Don’t you know that each of us has a palace somewhere?” He took a deep breath, squeezed his nose with his index finger and blew out a wad of snot while we stepped back respectfully, giving him space to aim for the rail tracks.    

“Yes, don’t look at me with that face like you don’t have a clue what I’m talking about. Everybody’s born with a palace assigned to them so they can live there and do whatever they want, or desire or aspire to do.” 

“Every, everybody?” I asked?  Cara de huevo took a swig, wiped his chapped lips with the back of his hand and widened his smile as if he was having a great time.

 ”All’s quiet on the Western front,” he said in a tone that implied the conversation was over.

“Where’s my mom’s palace and my pop’s?” I insisted.

“They got palaces, but that doesn’t mean they’ve found them. You have to search for your palace, search good and hard. Maybe lots of people never find theirs.”

“Have you found yours?”

“Don’t ask so many questions boy.”

“Where will I find mine?”

”Listen to you, all you ever do is ask–don’t ask so much. Shit, whoever said it takes so many questions to find something? Look for it and you’ll find it.”

After a lifetime of searching, I found my palace filled with miracles and sweet memories at Willowbrook Avenue, on the north side of Compton. Dad lived there, my brothers and sisters lived there, Great-grandma Cuca lived there, Grandma Carmen and Mama Sarita lived there.
Together they left an oasis of peace, knee-deep with love so thick you could slice it with a knife, divvy it with neighbors and still have left-overs. 

My palace had been there all along in a barrio with nopales and graffiti and Spanish-language music blaring from powerful speakers in competition with the metro passenger train which broke the sound barrier every hour, on the hour, in front of the house where I grew up.

Shared Stories: My First Car

Steven Boyd seems to have a natural mechanical aptitude. Even in the era of do-it-yourself car repair, his story still reflects exceptional ability. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns.

By Steven Boyd

In 1968 I graduated from High School and still didn’t have my own car. I had been working at a local pizzeria for $1.75 an hour and by late summer had saved a little over $400. Up to that time I had four modes of transportation:

1.)  Walking – this was reserved for shorter distances and used only when the other three were not available.

2.)  Riding my bike – this was my main mode of transportation at the time but had the drawback of not always being available because of technical difficulties.

3.)  Getting rides from friends – this was a great way to get around in style but had the drawback of only being available when friends were available.

4.)  Borrowing my mom’s car – This was a special occasion mode of transportation, reserved only for dates, which were few and far between in those days.

One day, in the fall of that year, I was walking down Valley View Blvd.  I was walking because the bike had a flat, my friends were all preoccupied and my mom had her car at work. As I passed by a local manure business, I noticed a green car with a “for sale” sign on the front window. As I got closer, I could read that they were asking $350 for it. 

When my dad got home that evening he agreed to go and check out the car to verify it was running and worth $350. After seeing and testing the car, he said yes. I paid the $350 cash and drove my very own car home. 

It was a 1963 Mercury Comet two-door. It had an in-line, 6 cylinder and 3-on-the- column. It had drum brakes all around. It had a working AM/FM radio, but the first thing I bought for it was an 8-track tape player. 

It had bench seats and accommodated six easily because it didn’t have seatbelts. This also made it easy for my date to sit anywhere on the front seat she wanted. 

One of the first young ladies I took out on a date in my new car was Maria, a close friend from high school. On our first date, she sat right next to me. The second date she sat in the middle of her portion of the front seat.  On our third date, she hugged the armrest of the passenger door. There was no fourth date.

The previous driver of my Comet was the company’s salesman who just happened to be a chain smoker. Because of the saturation of smoke on the headliner, the threads holding the sections together disintegrated and the headliner above the front seat hung down to just touch my head. 

I tried to clean it. I tried to sew it. I tried to tape it. In the end, I removed the entire headliner and spray painted the exposed metal.  It had a great sound when it rained.

One day, Bonnie and I were coming home on Interstate 10 after a college group retreat in the San Bernardino Mountains. I had a strong headwind to drive into but I wanted to show that my Comet could keep up with the other cars so I kept pushing it. 

Eventually, it blew the head casket, over-heated, and blew up one of the pistons.  A piece of the piston got wedged in the oil pan and froze the engine.  My dad had to come and tow us home. 

I was too innocent to know just what I was getting myself into but I decided to do all the repairs myself. Plus, I couldn’t afford to have someone else do it. It took me a while but I eventually got it back together and it ran. 

I learned a lot about an internal combustion engine by taking it apart and putting it back together. I’ve even done it a couple of times again on other engines. Once, a friend said I could have his car that had a blown engine if I could get it running again. I didn’t have a car at the time and so it worked out great. 

Another time, a mutual friend of Bonnie and mine had a crack in her block and I replaced it. I saved her a couple of thousand dollars and had fun doing it.

In the end, the Comet and I parted ways when I was in boot camp and my parents got tired of it being in their driveway. They sold it to the junkyard for $20 which they applied to my phone bill.

Oh well, it was just a car.

Shared Stories: Oprah and Morehouse College

Watching Oprah on the Golden Globe awards reminded Kay Halsey of a visit to Morehouse College with her father when she was a little girl.  It made her think of service to others and Martin Luther King, Jr.  Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns.

By Kay Halsey

Ninety-four years ago during the 1920’s my father took me to Morehouse College to a Christmas concert.  I was mesmerized by the magnificent men’s voices singing, “Oh come, oh come, Emanuel,” as they marched in, dressed in black robes.

Atlanta, Georgia, was a segregated city in those days, and the college was for Negro men.  It was a time of the greatest depression in America’s history.  The birth of Jesus was celebrated in all the Christian churches at that time with carols known to all.

I was surprised when I watched the 2018 Golden Globe awards that Oprah Winfrey had financed the education of 415 men at that college for $320,000.  Many of these men went on to have professional jobs.  

Oprah had, during her lifetime, financed 64,688 scholarships to other colleges also.  Oprah believed in Emanuel who taught men to love one another.

I am 97 years old now and have spent a lifetime trying to live a life of service to others, as Emanuel taught us to love one another.  I have touched hundreds of people, teaching and relating to their needs.  I notice however that Christmas and Thanksgiving today are influenced by buying, decorating and eating.  Prizes are given for the best decorations, what we see.  

Oprah was not born when Morehouse College was established.  Nor was Martin Luther King, Jr. yet born.  It was what they did that changed the lives of so many people.  

Love one another.  The things we dream about, Love, Joy, and Peace, are possible if we care about others.

Shared Stories: Square dancing at Seattle's World Fair

Belle Fluhart has a special memory from the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair when her southern California square dance club traveled north and danced on an aircraft carrier.  (A “squaw” dress, also known as a “fiesta” dress, originated in Tuscon in the 1950s and was popular among square dancers.) Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.  Curated by Carol Kearns

By Belle Fluhart

My husband George and I were avid square dancers.  We had danced with three other couples for years. The men all worked for U.S. Motors.  We had joined a club for the first time, The Reel Heels.

When we learned that the World’s Fair was to be in Seattle, George’s home town, we began planning to go up for the fair.  We planned to take George’s mother.

Our square dance friends wanted to go with us. We all decided we would travel together with trailers.  The fourth couple had three children. Ray asked if they could bring the children.
I said, “This is the opportunity of a lifetime. You wouldn’t want to leave them home!”  Another couple had two children also and were bringing them.

Ray had been looking for a trailer to rent that would sleep the five of them, and found one.  It was privately owned and the family would have the trailer, and the club cab truck to pull it with, ready to go when we were ready.

George and I owned a beautiful six-acre property in Alderwood Manor (about 16 miles north of Seattle).  It had rolling hills, huge evergreen trees, and a salmon creek.  We had always camped on our property each time we drove up.

I told the neighbors in Alderwood that we were coming up for the World’s Fair.  There would be four cars and trailers on our property.  I asked them to check with the volunteer fire department to ask if we could have an open fire outside.

The answer came back saying that the volunteer fire department was so excited about our coming up that they were overseeing the creation of our wagon train camping area.  And, so that the neighbors would not have a big water bill, they had filled a tank with water, with a hose and faucet, for us.  They brought a trash can and had also built a fire circle of rocks, so all was ready for us.

On an earlier trip, I had seen a big sign on a billboard that said, “Come square dance with us at the Old Red Barn.”

I wrote saying that we were four couples who were coming up for the World’s Fair, and would be camping out on our property on Poplar Way.  We would like to visit them and square dance at the Old Red Barn.

The answer came by return mail. They were excited that we were coming and asked the dates that we would be there. Our trip was for two weeks and I said we’d be there the last weekend.  This would be after we had done the planned activities at the fair. They replied that the square dance would be Saturday night, and sent a map showing how to get to the Old Red Barn from Poplar Way.

I had done all of the planning for the trip and told our girls that “We don’t want to out-dress these ladies and suggest that we each take a squaw dress.  Don’t forget your petticoats and dancing slippers!”  The men everywhere dress about the same – western pants, boots, and western shirts and ties.

We arrived Saturday evening at the Red Barn and our four couples danced the first dance. Then the caller said, “Now let’s break up this California square.  Let’s get acquainted with these folks.”

A man came all the way across the room and grabbed my hand.  After that first dance, he just kept hold of my hand.

After the next dance, he said, “Are you coming tomorrow?”

I said, “What’s tomorrow?”

He said, “There’s a flat top (aircraft carrier) anchored in the bay and there will be square dancing on deck from 9:00 am all day and into the night, a long as there are square dancers.”

I said, “I’ll go ask the rest of my group.”

Sunday morning at 9:00 am the eight of us walked aboard the flat top and were greeted by the Red Barn dancers.  The man I had danced with the night before came over and asked if we knew a certain, very complicated, very beautiful square dance.  I answered, “Yes.”

As part of this dance, each of the men grabs onto the next man’s wrist on each side, and the girls hold onto the next girl’s wrist on each side.  At the call, the four men stretch their arms out as far as possible, dance around in a circle with the girls on their arms.  They swing the girls until the girls’ bodies are flying out with their feet way off the floor and their skirts flying out in the air.

This man said, “I’m a guest caller.  Each caller is allowed to call one dance.  But I asked if I could call one dance for the Red Barn group and one for the Southern California group.  And, I have permission to do so.”

He made the announcement and said that he was calling this dance for the Southern California square, “but anyone who knows this dance, feel free to join in.”

Two other squares joined us, but the first time we girls took to the air, the other two squares backed out.  Everyone applauded.

Someone asked if it would it be the same if we were not with our partners.  I told the men across from each other to trade places so that all four couples would be different.  Then we did the dance again to a thunderous applause.  

As soon as we were finished, the caller said, “You Red Barn dancers get over there.  Don’t let our guests get away.”

A wall of people came toward us and we square danced all day and afternoon until it was time to go back to camp and have dinner with our families.

We had a wonderful time, we had square danced to our heart’s content, and now we were going home.

Shared Stories: For Display Only

Yolanda Adele’s short story packs a punch.  She shares a hard lesson learned about items on display at Christmas time.  Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.  Curated by Carol Kearns.

By Yolanda Adele

I was six years old the Christmas that my mother promised to take me to see Santa at the big store downtown. Mama warned me that I would first have to be patient while we stopped at the appliance department. 

As soon as we got off the streetcar I felt and smelled the fresh mist in the air mingled with the scent of cinnamon churros, my favorite fried sweet bread sticks, coming from a vender’s cart. I didn’t dare ask Mama to buy one for me. I was going to try to be on my best behavior for Mama, and that meant being seen, but not heard. 

The multi-color Christmas lights from the decorated street lamps reflected in the small puddles of rainwater in front of the store. It looked utterly magical to me.

We walked in and passed the main lobby where the sound of Jingle Bells played loudly and where Santa was sitting waiting for me! I was filled with the kind of excitement that must come when you are in the first car of a roller-coaster about to plunge at bullet speed towards the ground. 

We were at the mundane alliance department for what seemed eons. I grew impatient. I made several trips to the drinking fountain. Eventually, I had to go “potty.” 

Mama was so enveloped by the prospect of owning a new wringer washing machine that she turned a deaf ear to my pleas to “go.” I was afraid to have an “accident” and have my Mama take me home without seeing Santa.

Just when I thought I found a solution, an irate salesman approached my mother and asked in a loud voice, “Is that your child on the floor model commode?” He didn’t give Mama a chance to answer. 

“If so,” he continued, “remove her at once and explain to her that that latrine is for display, ONLY! We have sanitation laws you know!” 

With that said, he handed my red-faced mother a box of tissues. She cleaned me and the commode the best she could. In a hurry! We fled out of the store and across the street to the Piggy-Wiggly Café to use their bathroom and get cleaned up. 

Mama let it be known to anyone within shouting distance that I was not going to see Santa anytime soon. On that day I learned what “Display Only” is NOT for.

I finally got to see Santa in person - on my eighth Christmas.

Shared Stories: Side by Side

Nothing is quite like a road trip, and Steve Zaragoza recounts a treasured memory of one with his father. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.  Curated by Carol Kearns.

By Steve Zaragoza
About midyear 1977 my dad decided to change jobs and move to Seattle in the area of Puyallup Valley and then later move to the small town of Milton.

When I would fly in to visit, Dad would pick me up at SEA-TAC airport at baggage pickup. I would usually fly up once or twice a year if time permitted. 

Our first stop would always be Pike Market Place. Sometimes we would have breakfast at Cutter’s Restaurant and we would each have a shot of Bailey’s as we looked out to the harbor and talked about grandkids and family.

Next was getting two loaves of sourdough bread, salami, cheese, beer, and wine, then head home where the party would start. We enjoyed these excursions several times a year when I came to visit.

Around summer of 2009 I had called my dad and asked what plans he had. We conversed and decided that I would fly to Seattle and stay a few days, then we would drive back to LA together.

When it was time for us to leave Seattle we packed the car in early morning and got ourselves comfortable. I was driving, Dad at shotgun and ready to go.

We decided to use mountain routes and the first stop is Mount St. Helen’s, at the top, Vista Point View.  Before the eruption the view was spectacular.  But then looking at the destruction, Mother Nature had carved a beauty of her own to reshape a new view to make a comeback.
We next crossed the Columbia River, very powerful, and we went into Hood City, also passing Mount Hood.  Just entering Bend, I noticed an RV dealership, and cruising past I saw an RV that I might like.  

I had said, “That’s what I want. Something small and light.”

My dad struggled with hearing loss, and his response was, “Yes, I don’t want to eat too much either.” I started laughing. It floored me, with what he said.

My dad laughed also and said, “What is it?” I told him I was talking about trailers, not food. He smiled and laughed also.

It’s time for new batteries for his hearing aid, I guess.

We spent the night in Bend. Next morning we headed to Crater Lake but didn’t see much because of the fog.

Leaving Oregon and passing Mt. Shasta we ended up in Redding.  After early dinner we got a motel room. I was able to back up the car to the room door.

Next morning Dad said, “I’ll take the car and get ice from the motel machine.”  About 30 minutes later he came back. I had grabbed some luggage to load but didn’t find the car. It was about five stalls down.    

I asked Dad why the car was so far down. He said, “That’s not the half of it.”

When he backed the car to the door, got out, and went into the room, it was empty.  No one was there and he was wondering where I went.  It was the wrong room!

There was plenty of laughter.  As we traveled on towards home onto Hwy 395, we stopped at places we both knew.

As I travel on, I now miss talking, laughing, and reminiscing about the past and present times. Miss you, Dad.

Shared Stories: A Peace Corps Odyssey

Anthony Kingsley gave two years in service to the ideal of international brotherhood.  He received much in return.  It’s a timely story for this Thanksgiving season. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns

By Anthony Kingsley

In 1994 I was getting bored and while reading the job advertisements in the LA Times I came across a notice for a presentation at the Long Beach Library being given by some Peace Corps Volunteers who had just returned from Central America.

I attended and thought - that’s neat. So I completed the application to be a Volunteer. I remember one question – Where would you like to serve?  I answered Barbados, Fiji and some other places with a nice warm ocean and swaying palm trees. 

I got accepted – for Poland. Later I got a letter from Medical – you cannot be cleared because your tests indicate that you have a serious heart problem. I went to a cardiologist who looked at the printout and said he knew what the problem was. He did another EKG and it was normal. The previous technician had hooked up the terminals wrong.

By this time the deadline for Poland had passed. So I was given a choice – Armenia, Bulgaria or Kyrgyzstan. I accepted Armenia. Now I did not know that these four countries had a warm ocean and swaying palm trees.

Just before Memorial Day 1995 I was on a plane to Washington DC for orientation and to meet the other thirty-one Volunteers. We were A3, meaning the third group to Armenia.
A few days later we were on a plane to Paris. But it was only for a five-hour layover.  Then it was on to Yerevan on Armenian Airlines. 

As we were coming in to land there were no lights. But just before we were about to touch down they turned on the runway lights. 

Peace Corps transported us to the Armenia Hotel on Republic Square.  That night we went out walking and the fountains were all lit up, couples walking around and children playing in the fountains. I said to some of my friends – “This is going to be a good two years.” 

We stayed with host families for three months of training. My host family consisted of George, my host father, and his daughter Armenie.  But we only had running water one hour a day, no heat and sporadic electricity because of the war with Azerbaijan.

We were given language lessons and one day we were told to go back to our host family and practice. 

So I said to George what I thought was “Hey George, let’s go for a walk on Abovian Street”.  Then Armenie said, “Tony, why do you want my father go find a streetwalker on Abovian? That was my last attempt at the Armenian language.

After three months I was assigned to an organization as a Small and Medium Enterprise Consultant. This organization was also responsible for my housing. I was given a house to share with Stefan, a German consultant. After a short time, Stefan moved out and Dick More, the head of the program from the Netherlands, said he was going to stay with me – he only came about once a month. And so the Kingsley Arms was founded, a stopping point for Volunteers from all over Armenia.  The full Irish breakfasts became legendary.

One day Dick said that I was living better than he was and that I should find a place of my own. He arrived at about 3:00 am and I always had cold beer and cold vodka ready for him.  On his next visit I told him I had found a place and I would be gone when he came the next time. He said, well wait a little while and we will talk about it on my next trip. I never did move.  Maybe I should have joined the diplomatic corps!

But the organization did not have enough work to keep me busy so I was free to take on secondary projects.

One day an A2 volunteer asked me to help her school children because they were always hungry.  I set up a school lunch program that eventually served 224,000 lunches in some other schools throughout Armenia.

I was visiting a Volunteer in Vanadzor and he introduced me to his translator.  She was quite pretty but her two front teeth were blackened. So I set out to research dental hygiene in Armenia. I found out that the belief was that if teeth were brushed too much it would wear away the enamel. So I set up a dental hygiene program that trained school nurses and gave 15,000 children tooth brushes and toothpaste, compliments of the Colgate-Palmolive Company.

I think we brought a lot of peace. Five male Volunteers and one female Volunteer married Armenians. But the winters were very cold – minus 15 degrees.  

After two years and three months it was time for us to say goodbye to Armenia.

The best job I ever had, receiving a living allowance of $5.00 a day. 

Shared Stories: Coming to America in 1973

Nida Ferrer worked hard to build a good life for her children and persevered when faced with an obstacle. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.  Curated by Carol Kearns

By Nida Ferrer

On September 26, 1973, the petition of my husband was approved for us to join him in America. My husband had been working in the United States for Bechtel for five years. I was excited to come here and to be reunited with my husband and for my kids to be with their dad.

Before this happened, I had to complete all of the paperwork.  I went to the Philippine Embassy many times for them to approve all of the papers first.  I applied for all of our green cards as immigrants.

It took three months to complete all of my papers and to prepare everything.  I took my children for their shots.  My oldest son Peter was eleven years old, my daughter Elvira was ten, my daughter Wilhelmina was eight and my son Robert was five.

I went to apply for our flight tickets to the airport.  After a week our tickets were ready.  I prepared our luggage and packed all of the clothes needed.  During this week I received a letter from my husband, special delivery, saying for us not to come.  He said he could not find a house for us.

I was so angry and disappointed, but I told my children that we have to go. Your daddy can not stop us.  My decision was to write to my Uncle Eddie, the brother of my father, and tell him that I and my four children were coming, and, if possible, could he meet us at the airport.

He responded to my request and said he would come.  I told him that our flight was American Air Lines and that we would be in LAX around 4 p.m.  

I met my uncle only one time before when I was a little girl, so I sent a picture of me and my children.  When I and my children arrived at the airport I would have to imagine how my uncle would look.  I thought he must look like my father.   When I saw him, he did resemble my father.

When I saw Uncle Eddie, I was so happy.  Finally, we were in America.  We stayed at their house for one week.  He already reserved the first floor for us.  They had a three-story house.  His wife was a German lady and very sweet.  Their two children, my cousins, were already grown.  I met them as well.

I saw my husband for the first few months, but it didn’t work out.  A fifth child was born, but after a year we divorced.        

We all ended up staying at Uncle Eddie’s house for 14 years, and I paid only $100 per month.  I got a job with Prudential Insurance for six years.  Then they offered me a job in New Jersey, but I couldn’t move my family.  I got a job with Kaiser in Los Angeles and I worked there for 16 years.

My children grew up.  They all went to college.  I helped them until they finished their careers.  I bought a car for my son Robert so he could go to college and also find a job.  I also helped my youngest daughter Josephine.  She went to Biola University and graduated in accounting.  She also went to USC for her master’s degree.  I did my best to help them all, because I cherish them.

Norwalk Transit accepting canned food for rides


NORWALK – Norwalk Transit System will hold its annual canned food drive Tuesday and Wednesday, Nov. 14-15. 

Passengers are invited to donate a canned food item when boarding a bus in exchange for a free ride (transfers are optional). 

All canned food items collected will be donated to the Social Services Center’s emergency food cupboard to help feed local families in need this holiday season. 

More than 300 canned food items were collected during Norwalk Transit’s drive last year. 

For more details, call Norwalk Transit at (562) 929-5550.

Shared Stories: Apple bobbin’ and tear dobbin’

Sharon Benson Smith pours her grief into poetry and draws strength from positive memories. This piece is a tribute to her lively mother who passed away on Halloween. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns

By Sharon Benson Smith

I had dreaded the arrival and celebration of Halloween
it was the night Mom was rushed to the hospital
and the out-of-doors never again to be seen.

It’s the night to which children look forward to costuming and trick-or-treat
But I’d been thinking of it as the night the “rug was pulled from under our feet.”
This Halloween, October 31, 1978, will mark one year to the day
And I now recall that it all happened this way.

I rushed from work to the market to buy our trick-or-treats
And prepared something real fast for my family to eat.
Then I made my nightly call to Mom before the doorbell started ringing
And as usual, her voice, in its mom-manner, was singing.
“Hi, Mom, how are you tonight; I was just worrying about your
Having to get up and down to answer the door.”
“Dad will be back soon, Doll, he’s just at the store.”
“Okay, mom, just checking, but now I’ve got to go
I’ll call you tomorrow during lunch break as you know.”

All of the above had to have happened before the hour of seven;
Later she was taken in an ambulance; I got the call about eleven.
While in the emergency room, I was told she asked: “Where is my Shay?”
Well, Mom, you better believe your Shay was on her way.

Shawna was right, that little smarty, Mom would want us to have a costume party;
With boys dressed as cute hobos and girls as spooky witches
And a few clowns jumping around just to keep us all in stitches.
Some to be dressed as cuties, and others as scaries
Little devils and skeletons, and ballerinas and fairies.
She’d want us to go trick-or-treating and do some apple bobbin’
Instead of my thinking of hiding away sobbin’ and tear dobbin’!

So, I allow my thoughts to replay the happy scenes  
Like when Mom dressed as Casper the ghost one long ago Halloween
And succeeded in fooling Dad and we kids, as well as our neighbor, Jean.

Up through the years my thoughts take me away to the Whittier YMCA
When Mom was asked to be a judge that particular Halloween day
She couldn’t vote for her flappers but Tracy and I won anyway.
I have a picture of her wearing a badge that simply states “Judge;”
That’s another memory I’ll never allow to become just a smudge.

Who is that dressed up like a regular G.I.                                                                   
Wearing boots too large and at least knee-high
Going around saluting and repeating aye-aye?
How very cute she was, our mother, our queen
Even dressed as she was in fatigues of khaki green.

Then who’s the witch in the gruesome mask with a long hook nose
Who is the witch -- everyone asked -- but nobody knows.
She has an ugly hunch-back and talks in a witch’s cackle:
“Hello there, My Pretty, wouldja like a candy apple?”
She was playing the part I mean just so perfectly
That only the process of elimination revealed Grandma B!

When I told Steve I was writing on the subject of Halloween
He then reminded me of the following scene.
He responded to the knock at the Creedmore door
And could never even guess what he was in for.
There stood a colorful though shabbily dressed gypsy
She arrived all alone – now who could this be?
She held a huge light bulb, symbolic of a crystal ball
He’s asking himself: “Who is this real doll?”
She kept her hands covered and across her face was a veil
Still asking himself “Who is this weirdo” – Steve could not tell.
He went on to say “she uttered not a single word”
He continued asking himself “Who is this strange bird?”
Now Steve, as you know, is a pretty sharp feller
But couldn’t discern who this was, this gypsy fortune teller.
He said it took about twenty minutes of studying the ol’ gypsy
Then she made a certain gesture and he knew it was Grandma B!

Sister Donna reminded me of the party held at the bowling alley.   
It was the night that Mom dressed up like Phyllis Diller
The “most original” prize she won was that Halloween thriller.
I can picture her hamming it up and talking in that Phyllis Diller twang
Just a-laughin’ and a-jokin’ about her husband, Fang.

Who could forget Mom the year she dressed like a regular hill-billy
Again, she played the part, and I don’t mean willy-nilly.
With lots of freckles, an Okie drawl, and of course a snaggle tooth
In clodhoppers like Lil’ Abner’s granny, looking like she defined uncouth.

So as it all plays back and forth now in my heart and head   
These are the memories I should cherish of Mom instead.
Those memories of her that I should always indulge
Are those that make my love for her bulge.

There you have it, to Mom, my Halloween tribute
The night I went on a candy apple toot
It was the night I felt Mom prodding all the way
“That’s my girl, have yourself a ball, Shay.”
It was the night I didn’t do any apple bobbin’
It was also the night I didn’t do any tear dobbin’!

From those heavenly places, I know Mom was looking down
On her Shay the witch, on her Shay the clown.
I recall at this moment, and I don’t know why
The picture of a clown with a tear in his eye.
And I’m recalling Mom again assisting me
With a homework assignment – another biography.
All I remember of it now during this moment of gladness
“In the heart of a clown is a touch of sadness.”

Lord, as she asked of you for me as a teenager so very long ago
Please take good care her, she is such precious cargo,
And pardon me, Lord, for reminding you, of what you made so.

La Serna student scores perfect PSAT

 La Serna High School student Kyle Lien is one of 16,000 students across the nation to be named a National Merit Scholar semifinalist for 2018.

La Serna High School student Kyle Lien is one of 16,000 students across the nation to be named a National Merit Scholar semifinalist for 2018.

WHITTIER – After scoring a perfect 1520 score on his PSAT, La Serna High School senior Kyle Lien has been named one of 16,000 National Merit Scholarship semifinalists for 2018, placing him in an elite group of students who constitute less than 1 percent of seniors in the nation who received the highest scores in their state.
National Merit Scholarship participants are selected based on how they score on their Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) scores, generally taken in junior year. Of the 1.6 million students who took the exam for a chance to win the prestigious $2,500 scholarship, 34,000 top scorers received a commendation and 16,000 were selected as semifinalists.
The National Merit Scholarship Corporation will announce the 2,500 finalists in February.
“I would like to thank all of my teachers, who have been an inspiration to me,” Lien said. “Qualifying as a semifinalist for the Merit Scholarship is a sign of my accomplishments, showing I’ve worked hard and been at the top of my class.”
Lien, who in June came within 20 points of a perfect SAT score, has a 4.5 cumulative GPA and an active school and extracurricular activity schedule that embraces community outreach, civic policy and athletics. Lien is a La Serna Link Crew member, plays for the water polo team and is a member of the campus Key Club.
Lien is applying to several UC universities, Harvard, Stanford, Northeastern and USC to pursue medicine.
“Kyle is an extraordinary student who is generous to his classmates and respectful to his teachers,” La Serna Principal Ann Fitzgerald said. “Kyle is the ultimate team player, poised to be a tremendous scholar and future leader of his community. We are so proud of his accomplishments thus far and can’t wait to see what awaits him.”
As one of the school’s’ top students, Lien was nominated in June to serve as an American Legion Boys State delegate, traveling to Sacramento with 1,000 high school students to take part in a weeklong civics forum. Students created mock governments and learned the difference between city, county and state administrations.
In addition to rejoicing over Lien’s success, La Serna is also celebrating eight Commended Student recognitions. Placing among the top 50,000 scorers are Courtney Bylsma, Maya Delgado, Connelly Green, Andre Lee, Ye Lee, Sarah Saltikov, Emilie Silvio and Christen Tai.
California High School senior Rochelle Casement also earned recognition as a Commended Student.
“I want to congratulate Kyle for reaching this tremendous accomplishment and commend our other high-achieving students for reaching such an elite status,” Whittier Union High School District Superintendent Martin Plourde said. “We are committed to providing every student the opportunity to realize his or her highest potential in college and career, and with the support and dedication of our teachers and staff, our students continue to perform and make Whittier Union proud.”